Syria Has Hidden and Protected 99 Percent of Its Art Collections

Workers at Syria's National Museum of Damascus carefully wrap statues and place them in boxes to be transported to a safe place, hoping to save the priceless pieces from theft or destruction. (Photo: Josepg Eid/AFP/Getty Images)

Workers at Syria’s National Museum of Damascus carefully wrap statues and place them in boxes to be transported to a safe place, hoping to save the priceless pieces from theft or destruction. (Photo: Josepg Eid/AFP/Getty Images)

Where there is war, there is destruction. The costs for local cultural sites are often high, as was the case during World War II where countless artworks were lost to bombing and looting, as well as in Iraq during the 2003 invasion. Today, some of the world’s oldest and most important cultural sites and artifacts in Syria are under immediate threat from the ongoing civil war in the country. But the AFP reports that Syrian officials have managed to preserve 99 percent of its cultural heritage so far, thanks to the efforts of museum staff.

Maamoun Abdulkarim, Syria’s Directorate-General for Antiquities and Museums is among those taking extreme measures to ensure that Syria’s art and artifacts stay safe, including works that date to the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman empires.

“The images of the looting of the museum in Baghdad and other Iraqi sites are always on my mind, and I told myself that everything must be done to avoid a repeat of that here,” he said to the AFP.

Mr. Abdulkarim has overseen the storage and shipment of 300,000 items to secret protected locations. So far, works from 34 museums have been protected, with up to 80,000 from Damascus, Syria’s capital and second largest city.

Yaarub al-Abdullah, head of the National Museum and former director of antiquities for Deir Ezzor, helped to get 13,000 objects out of the city on a military plane after ISIS invaded Mosul, Iraq last August. He and museum staff dodged gunfire while transporting the work, and in the months since over a dozen have lost their lives.

“They feel that protecting our heritage is a question of honor, like defending the honor of their mothers,” said Mr. Abdulkarim.

But while good work is being done, plenty has still been lost. The AFP reports damage to 300 cultural sites and 445 buildings in Syria, and of its six UNESCO heritage sites, five have suffered damages since the fighting began.

Syria Has Hidden and Protected 99 Percent of Its Art Collections